There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it's the risk, the gamble. In any event it's a thing I need.
(1897 – 1962)
My daughter is a force of nature. From the moment she arrived, this kinetic kid has galloped through each day with gusto. As a baby, she nearly never crawled. She sort of scooted for a couple of weeks before she got up and ran. And she has never stopped.
Most parents observe their children closely to discern their special talents and giftings, so that they may steer their offspring in a constructive and productive direction. Certainly, I did this. I carted her off to swimming lessons, gymnastics classes, soccer practices and other high-energy activities. After the first week or two, however, each event became a battle of our very strong wills.
An Equine Notion
Finally, we discovered her passion.
A trailerful of ponies arrived at a neighborhood birthday party. My little towhead affixed herself to a sorrel Haflinger, and she would not let go. Finally, the ponies were loaded up to leave, and the children were summoned to the backyard deck for cake and ice cream. Still, my daughter refused to leave the pony! She stood by the open window of the trailer, stroking his mane and face.
The next morning, I signed her up for horseback riding lessons, and we have never looked back.
Actually, this made perfect sense. This child has always jogged and jumped and even steeple-chased through our home and our hearts. She even set up jump hurdles for herself and for our dogs. Why would she not be passionate for ponies?
The first lesson told all.
A kind instructor led my seven year old up and down the barn aisles, introducing her to each equine occupant. Then it was time to prepare her mount. Patiently, she showed my daughter how to fasten the saddle’s girth on the quiet old quarterhorse and strap on the splint boots to protect the horse’s forelimbs.
Hopping up onto the mounting block, my second grader swung a leg over the top of the liver chestnut horse, and she was off. Although the instructor kept her on the lunge line for the first session’s exercises, the riding lesson was clearly the highlight of my youngster’s life to date.
The Magic Potion
That evening, as our family gathered for dinner, the inevitable happened.
“Can I have a horse?” she asked.
Based on our history of event hopping, we decided to proceed with some caution. We suggested that she might have a horse when she turned twelve. That seemed like forever to all of us. Surely, she would lose interest long before then.
With my preteen safely tucked into the school day, I loaded up our trainer for a field trip. We drove across the state line to visit the horse of my daughter’s dreams at a jumping stable. As we entered the arena viewing area, the barn manager was giving a group riding lesson.
“There he is,” I said, pointing to a sleek bay thoroughbred, as he entered the jump course with his middle-aged woman rider. He looked just like his online photo.
Just then, as he cleared the first jump, his passenger dropped a stirrup and bumped him accidentally with her spur. The horse didn’t skip a beat. Instead, he added a step to make the next jump.
A retired racehorse, out of the lines of Man o’ War and War Admiral, this gentle thoroughbred gelding had been a little slow for the track. As a result, he had learned to go English and jump. He was perfect for us.
I quickly made arrangements for the thoroughbred to join our family, while trying to keep the secret from an anxious preteen. Scanning the internet, she noticed that this particular horse had been sold. My daughter was heartbroken, as she began searching for a substitute.
Finally, his arrival date came. Somehow, I managed to escape to the barn alone. As the trailer pulled in with our precious cargo, I called home.
“We have an emergency at the barn,” I said. “Come quickly!”
“I want you to meet him,” I said.
She whirled around and stared into his gentle face. I have never seen her speechless, before or since that moment, but she was.
That afternoon, she was aboard, riding and racing and cantering and clearing hurdles of all sorts. And these two have never slowed down.
As gentle and forgiving as this old boy is, he will jump the moon for her. He will race through meadows and across miles, if she flicks one calf muscle upon his side.
Still, if she enters his stall, in her flannel pajamas, and finds him laying in his soft shavings, her thoroughbred will allow her to curl right up next to him.
Kindred spirits? I should say so.
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